We met in 2006 almost accidentally, in Chinese Harbin, at one of the most prestigious ice sculpture contests worldwide. Belarusian sculptor Viktor Kopach was participating alongside Maxim Petrul and Konstantin Muzhev. China seemed mysterious and exotic and, as it turned out, their time there was guided by Fate.
Viktor Kopach boasts ten sculptures across China — more than in his native Belarus. We met in Minsk to discuss his creativity and life’s work, where Viktor admitted that, in the 1990s, on completing his studies at the Academy of Arts, following time at Art School, he was left without employment. He had devoted 10 years to his education, with parents and teachers placing every hope in him. He notes, “Nobody needed us; it was simply horrible. On entering the Academy, the situation was different. Our teachers assured us that painters and sculptors had plenty of commissions and enjoyed self-fulfilment. However, when we graduated, everything changed. While our senior colleagues had their own connections and a reputation, we had nothing. Many of us dropped out from the profession or tried to adapt.”
We all remember the 1990s. Few remained in their profession and, today, there are no more than 80 sculptors in the Union of Artists of Belarus. Viktor believes this is far too few, since our country boasts about 10 million residents. However, he admits sadly that even these sculptors lack commissions commensurate with their abilities.
You’ve visited China many times and have wide experience there, where they are keen to develop town sculpture.
We don’t have enough town sculptures while China is the fastest growing country and is keen to develop all branches. They love sculpture and their towns are being developed at an extremely rapid pace, with new parks planted, filled with sculptures. These help to create a pleasant environment, bridging the gap between nature and urban living.
Why is it that we have different sculptural traditions?
Theirs are stronger. They particularly like stone — in its natural form and in sculpture. They also like bronze, wood and various other sculptural materials.
The biggest sculptural park worldwide is situated in Changchun (Minsk’s twin town) — as confirmed by UNESCO. I’ve visited it, spending hours wandering among sculptures created by artists from all over the globe. It’s a fabulous feeling to see such a ‘symposium’; sculptors from around the whole world gathered there for some months, working side by side, exchanging experiences and chatting.
This International Sculpture Symposium was created at the initiative of Karl Prantl, in Austria in 1959. The aim is to promote communication and exchange between members of the International Community of Sculpture, and to promote international dialogue. The event is young but, as experience in China shows, it’s growing in strength. In China, architectural symposiums have become major events, with the state helping in their organisation. It is important to note that all works created during a symposium stay where they are set, which has brought about a great many sculptural parks across China. Changchun’s park even has a sculpture of mine: Viktor Kopach.
When I was in Changchun, I met sculptors and painters from various states — even from the islands of Oceania: Kiribati, Guam, American Samoa and New Caledonia. I met those from tiny Caribbean Islands too: Aruba, Saint Vincent, the Grenadines and Barbuda. It’s amazing to meet and work with so many nationalities — since you could never meet them all through normal travel. You experience their national traditions all in one place. It’s important to communicate, of course. Ten of my works are now sited in China, across various regions. I don’t know how it happened really!
Sculptural symposiums differ in form, matter and financing, being organised by municipalities of towns and by private organisations — including by universities. Viktor Kopach’s sculptures stand in universities in China (the 100th anniversary of the most prestigious university — Tsinghua — brought a contest won by the Belarusian artist) and in Turkey.
Universities with art faculties organise such symposiums so that their students can learn from famous sculptors, working alongside them. In China, the symposiums are grand affairs, sponsored by the government, and leaving behind a legacy of sculptural parks.
Does every symposium have a theme?
As a rule, yes — but, in China, the theme is usually wider than at most European symposiums. Organisers also choose various mediums rather than taking just one direction.
Are you invited as a representative of the Belarusian school of sculpture? How would you describe our school?
Mostly, I’m invited as a representative of Belarus: honour and responsibility. Many judge the level of our sculptural traditions by my work, so I am a representative of our school and our nation. Our school has its features but is less recognisable than some others — such as the Georgian or Baltic. Many of our leading sculptors — Alexey Glebov, Zair Azgur, Andrey Bembel and Sergey Selikhanov — studied under Mikhail Kerzin - who was a graduate of the Petersburg Academy of Arts. Obviously, Russian art has influenced Belarusian sculpture. My teachers studied under these outstanding sculptors, so every generation has brought its vision and new approaches to existing traditions, gradually widening the style and diversity. I believe that our school has maintained its traditions while evolving. Recent trends have moved away from the figurative — towards formal abstract, portraying concepts.
Where else are your works found apart from China?
In South Korea, Syria, Turkey, Thailand, Brazil, Russia and Spain. Asian countries are famous for their love of stone. This has always ‘struck me’ — and won me over. There is strength in this.
What is stone? A fortress, a house, protection and stability: all these things together. Asia enjoys a natural environment of mountains and stones, while we have wood. My love of stone led me to these Asian regions. Artists need to feel needed; it inspires us and gives us strength. It’s an amazing feeling to have others recognise your talent. Symposiums are a wonderful way of receiving public feedback. You fly to China, thousands of kilometres, and have the joy of stones nearby. You work with people from China, chatting with those who know stone and love it. You work and then see an immediate reaction from others. You spend all day and all evening doing what you love and it brings new understanding. It changes you and the quality of your work: your perception of the world and of your sculpture. Life is like an exam, in which your efforts are always being compared to others.
Sculpture is very much akin to craftsmanship, since you rely on your hands. I won’t ask about your inspiration, knowing that your mind is occupied by thoughts rarely occurring to the rest of us. You simply work every day and inspiration comes to you.
Quite so. Inspiration occurs when you feel strength and when you feel that something particular is intended. It has a life of its own which guides you. It’s much easier and faster to depict your inspiration on canvas; sculpture takes more time. Some months may elapse between an idea and its realisation, since there are various stages: you have to saw boards, make armatures, prepare your clay, create your clay mould, remove the form, refine your plaster cast or wax, and condition and patinate the bronze. An idea must be vivid to survive to the end.
Your whole family is creative: your wife is a painter and your three children draw.
Perhaps the children will follow in our footsteps. We don’t force them but everyone draws. There are a lot of exhibitions… They may choose another path but, for now, they draw.
Is your family calm? Artists are said to have bad tempers…
I think it’s easier to live in an artistic family. My wife comes from a family of painters so it’s what she knows best: nothing is constant. Sometimes you have bread and butter, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you have commissions and sometimes you don’t. She grew up understanding this — in her father’s studio. It is part of life for her. Of course, day-to-day problems can wear you down and some pity her for not having much money in the family — speaking behind my back. Nevertheless, we have the excitement of new trips and new victories. From outside, it seems difficult, but it holds us together. I dedicate time to creation while my wife focuses on the children, as is natural. However, she was inspired over the summer, leading to an exciting exhibition.
Is your family your foundation stone?
Family is very important. Early in life, your desire to create art is like a burden. Children bring strength and give understanding, as well as a new sense of motivation.
What does happiness mean for you?
Happiness is healthy children and when all is well: you have the opportunity to conduct your labours of love. You come to your studio to work each day and know that you are expected home each evening. This is happiness for me.
By Inessa Pleskachevskaya
Dream from stone
<img class="imgr" alt="During work at International Sculpture Symposium in Urumqi (China)" src="http://www.belarus-magazine.by/belen/data/upimages/2009/0001-009-390.jpg">[b]We met in 2006 almost accidentally, in Chinese Harbin, at one of the most prestigious ice sculpture contests worldwide. Belarusian sculptor Viktor Kopach was participating alongside Maxim Petrul and Konstantin Muzhev. China seemed mysterious and exotic and, as it turned out, their time there was guided by Fate.[/b]